It’s probably been about 15 years since the last time I sat down to watch a “Dexter’s Laboratory” episode on TV, but that doesn’t stop the nostalgia floodgates from opening in Derek Fridolfs and Ryan Jampole’s comic adaptation of the popular children’s television show. Fridolfs slips right into Dexter’s world with spot-on dialogue, developing a story that feels as though it were plucked from an unused episode script. Likewise, Jampole’s style comes as close to the animation style as is possible. Although this issue isn’t quite as daring as the show, which fostered two censored episodes, “Dexter’s Laboratory” #1 is a nice trip down memory lane for fans who grew up with the show.
Fridolfs presents an impressive, well-constructed plot by bringing the reader through the house in a style reminiscent of the show’s intro, succinctly introducing the main characters, and providing a nice build up and fall that transitions into a solid cliffhanger. Furthermore, he sets up a clever narrative device in Dexter’s need for documentation, incorporating a little robot that follows him as he runs through his day, which is a fantastic metatextual nod to “Dexter’s Lab’s” history as a television show. The dialogue truly captures the voice of the show as well; Dexter is as every bit overblown and hyperbolic as he ever was, in just as tongue-in-cheek a way. Fridolfs translates Dexter’s lilting accent into extended words, emphasizing the way the character drags out certain syllables. Letterer Tom B. Long expands on this idea with huge, thick text for DeeDee’s loud, bombastic dialogue and Dexter’s moments of epiphany. Additionally, Fridolfs doesn’t let the story get away from him by setting up the limitations of Dexter’s inventions, restricting his latest — the hilariously named Dreamwish-a-Tron 500 — with a set of guidelines that make it perfect as a one-time-use plot device.
Perhaps the only gripe comes from Dexter’s first experiment in this issue: Dexter creates a formula that allows him access to the “full 100% potential” of his brain, falling back on the time-worn “humans use only 10% of their brains” myth. Not only is this a false (if widely accepted) urban legend, it propagates an overused trope and isn’t as inventive as the rest of the issue. The plot device is quick, filling the need for a short invention scene, but it feels lackluster in comparison to the rest of the book.
Ryan Jampole compliments Fridolfs’ dead-on writing with an art style that looks as though it was lifted directly from the show. He packs in a lot of little Easter eggs in the background, particularly in places that allow them in a natural, realistic way; this is a book that benefits from a closer look, especially if you have any fond memory of the show. The panels are often just as hyperbolic as Dexter himself, showcasing an impossibly huge lab that stretches out of eyesight, which aptly captures the exaggerated humor and hyperbolic tone of the dialogue. However, although Jampole works in a lot of detail, the backgrounds are sometimes disappointingly blank; for instance, the tense conversation between Dexter and DeeDee has no detail at all, opting for a blue fill. Jeremy Colwell adds bright, lovely color to the book in a way that appropriately emphasizes the 2D nature of Dexter’s world, borrowing from the show’s pallet in the same way that Jampole borrows his style.
Even though this seems an odd time for “Dexter’s Laboratory” to be making a resurgence, Fridolfs and Jampole make their debut issue a whole lot of fun. With a sound plot, great character work, and on-the-nose artwork, “Dexter’s Laboratory” #1 is a pleasant surprise.